The deeper I get into working on "Place of Safety" the more I see how this is only the beginning of this job, and my future goals need to adjust to it. I have a responsibility to Brendan and his story and want only to make it as good as I can. What that means is focusing on finding some way to live in the Derry area for a couple years, like I once said I did, so I can make better the details of his life there. So Seattle goes by the wayside, and changes begin.
The whole third section of the story has just exploded, so I no longer have a map to follow as I write it; I just let it go and see where it takes me. I've been avoiding putting up anything from the third section because I don't want to give too much of the ending away, but this moment...it wanted to be shared, and I don't mind doing so because it's in the middle of a major shift in Brenda's character.
He's now 25 and has secretly returned to Derry by pretending to be a friend of his from Houston, but after a confrontation with some British troops he realizes he's about to be found out and has sent word to a childhood friend, Colm Lemass, that he needs help to get back out of the country. He's hiding in a neighbor's home, waiting.
The morning of the next day, I was in the kitchen sharing a pot of tea with Daria, Mrs. Haggerty’s oldest, and she was handling it in a very proper manner, too. Across from us sat little Sean, not but three years yet still fascinated with us to the point of total silence.
“White or dark?” Daria asked with deep seriousness.
“White, please,” was my reply, just as serious.
“Milk first or after?”
“Sweet?” she continued in the same manner as she poured first tea then a dash of milk.
“Lightly so, thanks,” I smiled.
She put in half a teaspoon. Less than I was used to, but I was so enjoying the tenderness of the moment, I didn’t care. She offered me bread with butter and jam off a chipped plate and I took half a slice so she and Sean could have the three left. Then I sipped, and the tea was strong enough to pull out your teeth if it so chose, but a taste of the jam settled it on my tongue. It was just us three there; Jimmy Haggerty was off to his job and his wife had run down two doors to fetch an egg or two for breakfast. I was hoping I could be fed before the Paras returned...or Colm called for me...for I'd not have a good meal, after.
But then there was pounding on the door. Sean jumped, terrified, but Daria instantly turned to him and said, “Now, Sean, don’t be such a baby. It’s just troopers and they’ll be gone again, shortly.”
Sean looked at me with accusation, and it cut into me. A child of seven comforting a child of three, and both knowing what a knock at the door meant. That was not the way their lives should start out. So I smiled at them, in comfort, and quickly rose.
“It’s all right,” I said, grinning. “It’s just for me.”
As I strode down the hall to the door, another pounding began so I called, “Hold on, hold on,” in my best twang. I wasn’t about to add to their idea the Haggertys might have known who I truly was. My voice gave them at least a little cover.
I opened the door just as a stocky Para was about to use his rifle butt, and I slipped into to Adam’s attitude and snapped, “What the hell’s wrong with you? I said I was comin’!”
I thought for a second he was going to shift the rifle’s butt to my head, but another man stepped forward, one I’d not seen before.
“Are you Adam Landau?” he said, another true Brit.
“Let me see your passport.”
I handed it over with hesitation, knowing that’s the last time I’d have my hands on it. I hoped Adam had the sense to tell them he hadn’t seen it in weeks -- but he was no fool; the second he was called he’d know something had happened and would step back long enough to find out what was going on. As for Aunt Mari and Uncle Owen, I’d finally decided they had a story in place for if ever the day came that I was found out. So my one concern was for the Haggertys and minimizing the trouble they’d be in.
“I’d invite you in,” I said, keeping the twang, “but this ain’t my place so -- .”
“No need. You’ll come with us.”
“Wait, Mrs. Haggerty’s not home. I’m watchin’ her kids till she gets back and -- .”
“What’s goin’ here?” It was herself bolting from the house next door, a cloth holding eggs in one hand, another woman right behind her and just as angry. “Mr. Landau, what’s this?”
“It’s nothin’, Mizz Haggerty,” I said. “These gentlemen just want me to go clear somethin' up -- .”
“You bloody Brit bastards,” she snarled, “he’s an American. Just because you think you can treat us like this doesn’t mean you can the whole world!”
“What’s this?” asked her friend. “He’s American? Who th' devil d'yous bastards think yous are?”
Other women were coming out, just as vocal in their displeasure, and I wondered if this was a method of pushing back against the Paras -- surround them with loud angry females to confuse the issue. But a quick look at the soldiers showed me we’d not have a repeat of the night at Mam’s, for the riots of the last week had put them too much on edge to be willing to back down peacefully, and god knows I didn't want to be around another massacre.
So I turned to Mrs. Haggerty and her mates and said, “Ladies, it’s all right. Thanks. I don’t mind goin’ with ‘em. I’ll just call the ‘Merican consulate from their office and get everything straightened out in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. It’ll be fine.” I turned back to the man in charge with a smile and added, “It’s just a little misunderstandin’, right?”
I honestly couldn’t tell if he was a corporal or captain or just a top sergeant -- but at least he was smart enough to hold his tongue and nod. He pointed to one of two PIGs and said, “In there,” then begrudgingly added, “Please.”
I let two of them lead me around to the back of the first beast, in tandem, the ladies still hurling curses at them, and the first one opened the door as the second kept close watch on me and the others made for the second PIG and a Saracen that was behind it but as I was about to get in I noticed movement from above, like an arm waving from behind a chimney, and looked up to see a single, dark, perfectly-shaped brick softly hurtle over the roof to slowly, slowly curl downward, spinning gently like it weighed nothing as it drew closer and closer and I gasped and turned away from it because it was getting so close I thought it might hit me but instead saw it slam onto the bonnet of the PIG behind me and ricochet into the chest of a Para that was about to get in. He cried out and collapsed and his mates swung into full battle mode as the once-growing throng of women burst apart like petals off an open rose and they scrambled back to their homes while more stones came pelting down on the Brits -- and on me.
I was clipped in the back and hit full on my left hand as I scurried away from the PIGs to find a place of safety and saw the Paras taking cover behind the vehicles and a corner house, rifles prepped ready to fire, and I cried out, “They got bullets!” with no hint of Texas in my voice then. That’s when the commander grabbed me and slammed me into a doorway, snarling, “Right, you’re from bloody America.”
I burst into laughter at the fury in his face -- I couldn’t help it, he was so fuckin' comical. So he punched me with his pistol, cutting open my left eye, and my head rang and blood poured yet still I laughed. It was insane -- the chaos a few stones can bring and the stupidity of the anger these bastards dared show against those they occupied and futility of it all in the face of the world’s disinterest and the fact that Mam was gone and would never get to see any of this finally crush the spirit of those who lived here and no one would learn the lessons of the place because we were now a template on how to fight back against the oppressor and none of them could see it and this stupid bastard thought he could beat me into ending my laughter when it was beyond my control, all of it, all of it.
Then I heard gunfire from the Paras’ rifles and laughed even harder as I choked out, “You stupid bastards, you’re shootin' at ghosts!”